Very little is known about pictorial Alice Boughton's life or childhood except that she was born in Brooklyn in either 1865 or 1866 and was the daughter of a prosperous New York attorney. After attending Miss Rounds' School, a private girl's preparatory school, she traveled to Paris and Rome to study painting. Upon her return to the United States, she continued her studies at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute.
Miss Boughton's interest in photography began when she was introduced to the the work of Gertrude Kasebier, an early twentieth-century photographic pioneer whose images celebrated motherhood. She opened her first studio in 1890, and it remained in business for the next four decades. Through Miss Kasebier, she was introduced to the Photo-Secession founded by Alfred Stieglitz and consisting of a liberal-minded group of photographers who shared similar views. Miss Boughton immediately embraced the ideals of the Photo-Secession, and was elected a fellow of the group in 1906. By this time, her photographs had been featured in the first exhibition of the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession.
Like Mrs. Kasebier and other Photo-Secessionists, Miss Boughton specialized in a particular style - portraits of young women and children. Her works appeared in Stieglitz's Camera Work publication, and her tableaux vivant scenes were featured regularly in popular periodicals like Good Housekeeping and American Magazine. Tableaux vivant or "living pictures" were either costumed models or actors photographed in theatrical lighting. Miss Boughton later applied this style to her nude studies of young women and girls.
Applying her painting background and understanding of light and composition, Miss Boughton shared the photographic philosophy of the nineteenth-century French master Nadar, who believed that knowing how to utilize light and reflect personality in photography were based upon feeling and could not be taught. Miss Boughton added that portrait photography was more challenging than portrait painting because the painter typically holds several sittings and therefore becomes familiar with the subject's various moods. However, the photographer works much more quickly and usually must convey personality and mood in a brief single sitting, which requires instinct and intuition.
As her reputation grew, Miss Boughton expanded her photographic repertoire to include celebrity portraits, which she detailed in her 1928 text, Photographing the Famous. Her famous sitters included poet William Butler Yeats, author Robert Louis Stevenson, playwright Eugene O'Neill, psychologist and philosopher William James and his writer brother Henry James. She once admitted that of all her famous sitters, she found the pompous Henry James to be the most terrifying. After closing her studio, Alice Boughton spent her later years in the comfortable seclusion of her beloved Long Island home, which is where she died on June 21/22, 1943.
1978 Camera Work: A Pictorial Guide (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 73.
2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC), p. 1237.
2008 Illustrated Dictionary of Photography (Buffalo, NY: Amherst Media, Inc.), p. 135.
2002 Photography: An Illustrated History (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.), p. 23.
2007 Seduced by Modernity: The Photography of Margaret Watkins (Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press), p. 69.
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